On April 15, Garrett Mitchell endured his second straight 0-for-3 performance against Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco.
The UCLA-committed 2017 Orange (Calif.) Lutheran outfielder saw his batting average drop below the Mendoza line to .197 for the season.
“He's just a 17-year-old kid and the things that they all deal with at 17 years old plus the pressure of scouts and agents and people trying to talk to him,” Orange Lutheran head coach Eric Borba said. “Trying to stay focused and understanding what the important things are right in front of him, that's the biggest challenge for him.
“Any guy that’s on the prospect list, if you will, and are being watched like that is gonna have some added pressure. I think we've seen him grow through that a little bit. He’s going to have to learn to deal with it and continue to do so.”
Searching for a solution to his offensive woes, Mitchell had to search through the mental side of his approach and realize he was allowing both internal and external influences to affect his play.
“I’ve just been a little bit in my head and there were a lot of outside sources not letting me just focus and just have fun. I think that the most important thing was me not having fun at first and when I started to realize that I just took a deep breath: ‘Just let the game come to you. Do what you can and what you're good at.’ That’s when it got easier for me.”
Mitchell has made the game look simple since the series against St. Johns Bosco. In 11 games, he has hit .483 (14-for-29) and finally raised his average back up to the .300 mark with a 2-for-2 game in a 9-0 win Tuesday night against Santa Margarita (Calif.).
But the seminal performance in Mitchell’s turnaround came a week prior. With a number of scouts and college coaches in the stands, he went 3-for-3 with hard base hits to all three fields against Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei. It was an emotional game for Mitchell.
“It's good. It's exciting actually. It’s been a little bit of a struggle all year. It feels good to have good at-bats. More importantly to hit the ball hard,” Mitchell said after the performance. “I’m not too worried about what happens if I get out or whatever it is. I'm more worried about hitting the ball hard because at least I know I'm doing something right. That's the most important thing to me.”
He wasn’t trying to carry the Orange Lutheran offensive load all by himself. He was hitting the ball hard wherever it was pitched and letting the results speak for themselves. Mitchell pulled the first single hard through the right side past the first baseman. He let the ball travel deep into the hitting zone and stung it through the left side of the infield out of the reach of a diving third baseman for his second hit. And his third knock of the game was a liner right back up the middle, over the pitcher and into shallow center field for a two-run single.
“I know that things are going well when I’m able to hit the ball everywhere, spraying it across the field. That’s when I know I’m at my best.”
In the game against Mater Dei, Mitchell also showcased what makes him such a unique and standout talent. With the Lancers holding a 1-0 lead, Mitchell reached to lead off the fourth inning. He then made a pair of terrific reads on pitches in the dirt that barely bounced away from the Mater Dei catcher. Both times Mitchell did not hesitate to take off when he saw the pitch headed for the dirt and slid in safely, advancing on a pair of “wild pitches.”
Mitchell has confidence in his athletic ability and is able to read the pitch trajectory well enough that anytime he expects a catcher to go to his knees to block a ball in the dirt, he believes he can take the next base. There is no pause in his decision making. If a catcher drops out of his crouch, it’s ‘go time’ for Mitchell, who thinks it would take a perfect throw to nab him.
Against Mater Dei, he slid in safely both times. When he got to third base, the Monarchs pulled the infield in. That allowed a teammate’s otherwise routine chopper up the middle to get through for an RBI single rather than being a potential double play had Mitchell still been at first base.
“The physical ability is off the charts, but the ability to read a ball in the dirt and take those extra bases. That was potentially a game-changing situation there and he made something happened,” Borba said. “His speed allows him to do that but obviously the mental game has put him in the right spot to be successful there.”
Mitchell calls himself a four-tool player. He hasn’t displayed much power in his high school career, but Mitchell said he’s “got pretty much all the other skills.”
He’s one of the top athletes in Southern California, which is what made him a hot commodity for UCLA to pick up a verbal commitment from. Though playing for a national championship winning coach in John Savage is an impressive allure, Mitchell was stunned by the atmosphere around UCLA and the baseball program.
“Since the day that I stepped on that campus, I knew that I was going to go there,” Mitchell said. “Just on the unofficial visit and just feeling the atmosphere and being around that place, I just knew that’s where I wanted to be. They didn’t have to sell me that much.”
If Mitchell can build on his strong second half this spring and get off to a better start next year, he won’t be having to sell the MLB scouting personnel either. But Mitchell is trying to tune that out.
“It’s good knowing that it’s a possibility, but I try not to focus too much on it because college is really important to me. That’s what my focus is and if comes, it comes, but the main focus is college.”
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